How can I best help my mom?
November 1, 2010 5:27 PM   Subscribe

My mom is undergoing a double mastectomy in a few weeks.

As the date draws closer, she is understandably getting more and more anxious and upset. I feel a little helpless on how to be the most supportive. She knows I'm always available to talk and will be there for a little bit to help out after the surgery. How have you supported a loved one going through a similar situation?
posted by Elaisa to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My mother had a mastectomy last year. I stayed with her for three weeks around that time. She needed someone to drive her places at first because she couldn't drive, but was well enough to visit friends, the shops, etc.

I cooked her lots of meals, helped her deal with the huge number of friends and acquaintances who visited ("I'm sorry - she's asleep right now. But I'll let her know you came by. She'll really appreciate it.")

She wasn't in too much pain, but she was really scared. So just having someone to talk to helped a lot. Because of the anxiety, she had trouble remembering what doctors had said during meetings with her nurses, doctors, oncologist... So having me there to take notes and remind her later helped a lot too.
posted by lollusc at 5:34 PM on November 1, 2010

Best answer: I think you'll sort of have to follow her cues, though I'm also sure she's not sure how she'll be post-surgery. If you can't be there geographically for much time, that can make it harder for the both of you. Can you help coordinate long-term help with friends and neighbours? Maybe help her get in touch with a support group? Or a family friend who may have gone through a mastectomy? For some people, just talking to survivors can help put some nerves at ease. I was "lucky" enough to have seen my mom survive breast cancer, so it wasn't quite as scary, but I know from talking to women who didn't have that exposure it can be especially terrifying.

When I went through my bilateral mastectomy, it was great that friends and family helped me clean up my apartment and get things in order before I went in. It was one less thing to worry about and it helped ease my friends' nerves by making them feel involved.

Seconding cooking meals. There were many times when my mom's frozen meals saved the day.

Also seconding going to appointments with your mom if possible. It helps keep stuff straight, and again, you get to be involved.

Some fun things that would be a huge help probably would be getting your mom some nice pajamas that have a top that buttons up. I had a few sets and it made it easier during my recovery.

(Also, make sure you take care of yourself. When somebody gets a mastectomy, their whole network of family and friends is affected. Don't ignore your feelings.)
posted by kendrak at 6:03 PM on November 1, 2010

Best answer: I didn't support a loved one, she supported me.

My fortysomething sister had a double mastectomy early this year. This summer, she made a point of taking female friends (and gay male relatives like me) aside to show us her breasts mid-reconstruction. She didn't ask, she insisted.

"This is my way," she said, "of helping people understand that it's not a death sentence, and it isn't the end of being desirable."

To be completely honest, I was prepared to be horrified. In fact, her half-reconstructed boobs looked... well... terrific. Seriously, and this from a gay man.

More, I used to think of my sister as sweet, but kind of a ditz. No longer. My respect and admiration for her grew that day by orders of magnitude. I now think she's maybe the coolest babe on the planet.

My wish for your mom is that she makes what's happening to her one good milestone in a great life.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:11 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

CarePages or CaringBridge. They're free sites that are set up so you can share news of your loved one's health updates and have other people leave messages for you in an online guestbook. Both of them are good, but I think CarePages has a slightly more complicated wall that requires you to create an account and log in.

This was SUCH a godsend when my aunt had breast cancer. There were always people trying to find out what they could do, what she was feeling like, how fuzzy her hair was, all that. There were also a lot of people who didn't know her at all logging in to leave messages of support because they'd heard about her from one of my other family members or similar. We ended up telling lots of hilarious stories about each others' lives and connecting more than we had in healthier times. There was a lot of "Did you SEE the pictures Matt posted on the CarePage?"

But aside from that, it's just nice to have a place to direct people. "How IS he?" "Oh, he's got his ups and downs, but he's pretty good. Just check the page." It's very reassuring for both the people updating it (and most likely dealing more directly with the patient's care) and the people reading it (many of whom may be respectfully curious but don't want to bug you). It's also great to help organize support if you need it.
posted by Madamina at 7:12 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm going through a similar situation. Someone in my family was recently diagnosed with cancer. Doctors say she has about ten years to live, which is a longer prognosis than we first thought. I call her regularly, every few days, and just ask how she's doing. She's able to confide in me about the serious stuff going on with her, and sometimes we share light moments and a joke or two.

My family member has a supportive partner who helps her out a lot. You don't say whether your mom's married/partnered, but it sounds like your mom has a lot of family and friends who are there for her just like you are. Be there for her when you can and appreciate your role in her recovery, but don't feel bad about taking a break and letting other people step in for a while. That's what keeps me from getting burnt out, so I can keep being a member of "Team [her name here]."
posted by tamagogirl at 7:19 PM on November 1, 2010

Oops - I conflated lollusc's answer with your question. I hope you and your mom also have some good friends and acquaintances.
posted by tamagogirl at 7:22 PM on November 1, 2010

Mom had a single-mastectomy and TRAM-flap reconstruction in August 2009. She was in the hospital for 5 days and then came home. My dad and I were home with her, and she was really in pretty good shape.
Challenges were taking care of the drains (she had three, one in the new breast and two in her belly) since they were just in the way a lot. Larger men's button-down shirts were good because she could pin the drain reservoirs up and out of the way.
We had plenty of books and DVDs but she was drowsy and would fall asleep mid-page while reading. I think that was the painkillers.
The painkillers also gave her vivid, specific and memorable dreams. In one, she had to bake a dozen cupcakes on her stomach so she could give them to George Washington. But the painkillers were good and I think they helped her feel well more quickly.
By day 6 we were going out for groceries and just to walk around a bit.
Please memail me if you have other questions - I could also forward them to my mom since she's now active in Reach for Recovery talking with other women going through what she did.
posted by Coffeemate at 7:53 PM on November 1, 2010

OH YES what Madamina said! Caringbridge was awesome when my mom went through a double mastectomy and reconstruction last year. It is a great way to get info out to everyone, and for them to send love back. It was great for my family.

My mom is doing well now (I get to hang out with her tomorrow! Yay!).

I don't have a lot of practical advice. Just be there for your mom as much as you can. Take care of yourself, too. I hope everything goes as well for you as it did for us.
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:11 PM on November 1, 2010

I went to be with my mom through her single mastectomy, and the later reconstructive procedure. I hung around with her, made tea for her visitors (and made sure they didn't stay too long), kept her on a schedule for the pain meds, cooked food, answered the phone (and screened calls), tried to have a sense of humor through the whole thing. I'm not gonna lie, it was hard.

She made a full recovery, and still thanks me on occasion, 5 years later.

I wish you and yours the best. Please feel free to memail me if you want to talk!
posted by vortex genie 2 at 4:20 PM on November 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the suggestions. It's really appreciated. I'm glad to see so many of your friends/family doing well after their surgeries.
posted by Elaisa at 7:06 AM on November 3, 2010

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